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Sunday 3 February 2008

Nasty Bill's dirty tricks may wreck Hillary's bid

Ruth Dudley Edwards chooses Clinton over Obama but is really rooting for McCain as Super Tuesday looms

Hillary's got backing from Madonna and Jerry Springer, but Obama's got George Clooney and Oprah Winfrey. Obama's got Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Adviser to Jimmy Carter, while Hillary's got Madeline Albright, Secretary of State to Bill Clinton. Hillary's got Robert F Kennedy Jr and Kathleen Kennedy-Townsend, but Obama's got Ted Kennedy and JFK's daughter Caroline.

(This bombshell gave rise to the best internet joke I received last week, which featured a photograph of Kennedy whispering into Obama's ear as they both look at Hillary: "If I drive her home, can I be Vice-President?" It also caused me great glee to read the sheer confusion in the parochial Irish-American press, which judges candidates purely in terms of what they might do for dear old Ireland. To hell with the world.)

Hillary's campaign team won't admit what funds she raised in January, but Obama collected a staggering $32 million. What's more, Hillary's donors are said to be maxed out, while 97 per cent of Obama's are thought not to be.

With only a couple of days to Super Tuesday, Obama needs all the money he can get to combat the smear campaigns which have flooded the internet with claims that Barack Hussein Obama was brought up, and secretly still is, a radical Muslim, or that yes, he converted to Christianity, but is a member of a racist church. And so on. The Clinton camp has certainly played dirty.

The jury is out on whether Bill Clinton's spectacular nastiness has worked or backfired.

Daniel Finkelstein, the London Times commentator, summed up last week what Bill had been up to when he set about trying to ruin Obama by racialising the race for the Democratic nomination. Finkelstein quoted Shelby Steele, an analyst of racial politics, who says African-Americans can be bargainers or challengers. A bargainer promises not to use America's racist history against whites, and is given eternal gratitude in return: examples, Colin Powell and Oprah Winfrey.

A challenger insists that all whites are incorrigibly racist until they prove otherwise and build their careers on emphasising the higher moral ground of blacks: examples, Jesse Jackson and the revolting rabble-rouser Al Sharpton.

So, concludes Finkelstein, Clinton saw that Obama was dangerous because he was a bargainer who wanted blacks to move beyond challenging. And so, sneaky sod that he is, he compared him with Jesse Jackson in a deliberate move to frighten off white voters.

It was a ruthless, dishonest and contemptible strategy which may work. On the other hand, it revolted many decent people and opens up again the possibility that Bill may in the end do for Hillary. As one commentator observed: "It's interesting to hear so many Democrats say, 'I never understood this thing Republicans had against the Clintons -- now I get it'." Bill's ego is also getting in the way. She alleges she deserves the presidency on her own merits: he says "I'll be there talking her through everything like she did with me."

"God help whoever is Vice-President," is a common observation.

I loathe the Clintons, find Obama very likeable and believe he has vision and could be a force for unity, but if forced to choose between Hillary and Obama as President, I'd choose her. The last thing the US needs when the West is up against radical Islam is a well-meaning chap who thinks all will be well if he sits down and shoots the breeze with nutters. There is, fortunately, a good chance that in the end Americans will realise they need a gnarled old toughie in the White House who will be deeply unpopular with Islamists everywhere.

So it made me happy last week to see the morally and physically brave John McCain standing between his two new best friends, Arnie Schwarzenegger and Rudy Giuliani. Asked if it was dangerous for him that all three were seen as liberals, he responded: "I will never be anything but honoured by the presence of these two heroes. You will see a flood of endorsements from liberals and conservatives in the coming days. I am confident that for the majority of the conservatives in my party the number one priority is the threat of extremists." Which may do for McCain's only challenger, Mitt Romney, who hopes to win on Super Tuesday because Republican conservatives think McCain's a dangerous leftie. However, McCain's 95-year-old mother observed on television last week that "holding their nose they're going to have to take him". What other Republican, she asked, was as loyal to Bush?

Roberta McCain's instincts are probably right. McCain was in favour of the Iraq invasion but a brave and informed critic of the way it was conducted and a proponent of the surge that seems to be working. That should work well in the Republican heartlands.

Aren't American politics Super?

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards